Despite losing to the Milwaukee Bucks once this season, the way the Miami Heat have been playing during the second half of the season leaves very little doubt in the minds of those making predictions regarding this first round playoffs series about the chances of the NBA champions advancing with a clean and relatively easy sweep.
Miami aren’t just the defending champions who happen to have the best player in the NBA and someone who also might be the best shooting guard in the league when he’s healthy (and it seems he is), but the numbers suggest that they have the best offense in the league, averaging 108.6 points per 100 possessions this season, with a defense that allows slightly over 100. The Bucks are quite similar defensively, but their offense scores barely over 100.1 points per 100 possessions, and there’s little wonder why the Bucks are the only team in the playoffs with a losing record.
Yes, they can look to their 104-85 win over the Heat in December and say there’s a chance. But that was abnormal performance from the Heat during their worst stretch of the season, turning the ball over 20 times. Yes, Larry Sanders, who finished with 11 rebounds, 4 blocks and 16 points can be a force of nature in the paint, but beyond him, there’s not much of an x-factor the Bucks have to offer.
The Heat have lost only three times during the final 41 games of the season. During that stretch came two double-digit wins over the Bucks, with LeBron James once doing it on his own (28 points) and once as the Big three combined for 76 points. The common thing between the wins was focusing on one of the Bucks’ two guards, specifically Monta Ellis, and shutting him down. Ellis averaged 7.5 points in those losses, and that’s where the big problem for the Bucks lies.
You can argue all day about who is the harder guard to stop – Jennings or Ellis, but they’re both volume scorers who can be shut down, while not giving up too much when it comes to team defense. Unless Larry Sanders plays like the best defensive big man in the NBA, while both Ellis and Jennings, who are fun to watch when they’re not too selfish, play like All-Star combo guards, allowing Ersan Ilyasova open looks from beyond the arc while Marquis Daniels manages to do a decent job on LeBron James, on whom he’ll spend defending most of the time.
Prediction – Heat in 4.